In light of International Week of the Deaf 2020 (21- 25 September 2020) and National Mosque Open Day (31 October 2020), I offer tips on how to make our religion, mosques and events accessible for people with hearing loss.
I acknowledge that people with other disabilities also face barriers. But I focus on Muslims with hearing loss because I am one myself, and this is part of my PhD research at University of New South Wales (UNSW).
Growing up, I faced many barriers trying to access my religion or feel part of the (Muslim) community. Only recently there have been amazing improvements.
Lakemba Mosque/ Lebanese Muslim Association (LMA) and Imam Husain Islamic Centre (IHIC) are leading the way in Sydney. There are also other organisations also making religion accessible for people with hearing loss. But I (and others like my deaf friend Mevlut) have been involved and consulting with these two organisations for the last few years which includes Auslan (Australian sign language) interpreting for their events/live-streaming and videos.
LMA live held on 9 September with Auslan interpreter Rebecca Cramp.
Here are some tips from my experiences:
- Consult people with lived- experiences. If you don’t know where to start, invite local Muslims with disability for a chat! Learn about their challenges and what resources you can offer. Aim for an ongoing relationship and involve them in your planning. Even better, hire them or pay them for their time.
- Plan early! I know Arab/Muslim communities tend to leave things last minute. But incorporating inclusive practices and access adjustments need time. Don’t plan your event and then ‘realise oh we didn’t book an interpreter’. Consider what access you can provide from the start of planning process and allow time for booking and funding.
- Funding is a big issue why organisations can’t offer access. Mosques, organisations and the Ummah should take responsibility in covering costs. Include access costs in budget planning, arrange fundraisers, allocate a portion of ticket costs for this.
- Auslan (Australian sign language) interpreters need at least 2 weeks notice.There is a shortage of interpreters in the country. In Sydney, there are only 2-4 professional Auslan interpreters who are Muslim themselves or have relevant experience. Other interpreters do not have much knowledge about Islam or working in Muslim settings. Be patient with them, offer as much support and information.
- We need more Muslim Auslan interpreters- especially Muslim Men who can interpret Friday Khutbahs or gender specific situations. Encourage the youth to consider this career or sponsor them!
- Not everyone knows sign language! There are many other access measures you can take, such as booking live-captioning, priority seating at the front, helpful signage, facing the person when you speak.
You can read more in my blogs (Silent Signs) about these challenges and what has been done so far.
I hope my PhD will also provide more information as I am observing different religious/community programs and events. I am also currently conducting interviews with Muslim women with hearing loss to find out more about their experiences. I am looking for more Muslim women (Auslan users) to interview.